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If Joe and I were alive a century ago we would find ourselves with a 1/3 chance of being dead by this time today; and if not likely within the last six weeks of our lives. One-hundred years ago marked the 1st of July 1916; the First Day of the Battle of The Somme. You can read about the tragic events that lead to the deaths of well over a million young men in plenty of places, but in short boys occasionally as young as 12, who might never have ventured outside of their own village, found themselves far from home in a place that looked, sounded, and smelt like hell itself. Trench warfare was a war of attrition – no fancy tactics, no clever firefights; just two sides squaring up across the fields of France firing upon one another until one side was entirely wiped out. I always feel that history allows us to gain a sense of distance from the atrocities of the past, but an event that saw people living lifestyles similar to our own being shipped off into the meat-grinder cannot be dressed up. This is why I chose to say 36,500 days rather than 100 years; to shorten the distance.

As harsh and inelegant as the First World War was it is an area of history which has always fascinated me. The diabolical experimentation of the weaponry, completely misguided way of combat, and resultant transformation of the landscape into something very dark and alien fascinates me as I think about what it must have been like to have first arrived at the battlefields of the Somme. The romantic lull of Edwardian Britain had been bombarded, and Europe found itself thrown into a passionless conflict caused by a two-sided complex of alliances splitting Europe. Like a board game of Risk gone wrong, millions of people on both sides had to pay the price. To make matters worse, this was a time when previously only single-shot firearms, coupled with bayonets, had been used to fight battles. Harking back to the age-old pitched battles of the Middle Ages and beyond, the two sides lined themselves up to shoot at one another. It was this war which taught us how to firefight using careful manoeuvres – rather than sheer destructive force, in order to gain ground. This of course came at the cost of a generation.

I have been fortunate enough to visit the battlefields of the Somme and Belgium twice. The first was a school trip in 2011, and the second was organised by the Bay Museum, Canvey Island. Whilst the landscape has now returned close to the idyllic French countryside we all imagine, the scars of the destruction are unmistakable. It is hard to realise how the green rolling fields were transformed into acres of mud, blood, and burnt tree stumps by the fighting, but this shows the scale of the destruction. Not a patch was left unharmed. Great gouges from shelling and trenches alike still litter the enormous lawns; such as the massive Lochnagar Crater which clocked in as one of the largest ever non-nuclear man-made explosions. I remember walking the trenches – looking over the top and picturing how the battles took place from the eyes of an individual. We also visited the numerous memorials – each adorned with an unimaginable number of names. The very quantity of memorials is a tribute to just how many we lost. I have included photographs I took of the battlefields in 2011. Of course these aren’t quite as sharp as the images we take nowadays but at least it gives you an insight into the sites of the First World War today.

To put trench warfare in a first-person perspective I recommend the incredible book Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. One of the few novels that I have ever found moving enough to finish, I have read this on two occasions and each time it put me in the very shoes of a soldier and his emotions in the trenches and how it changed their lives. For something a little more interactive I would praise the shooter game Verdun which allows you experience what it was like to fight as one man against the battles of the First World War, taking historical accuracy into account heavily – something rarely seen in the genre.

This Saturday head down to Hadleigh Old Fire Station at 7:30pm to watch the film of the Somme created in 1916 to document what it was like. Admission is free, courtesy of Hadleigh & Thundersley Community Archive in cooperation with the IWM Centenary Partnership. If you can’t make it, head down to the Bay Museum on Canvey any Sunday and handle some Great War artifacts for yourself!

For two years the iconic Art Deco village inn on Canvey Island has ceased serving pints. Beyond the Point was fortunate enough to be allowed to photograph the interior shortly after closing, and the cellar last year. The building has been unable to reopen as a pub or as an indoor market as planned after it was sold in 2014 due to licencing issues, and difficulties with listing the construction as a historic building has presented itself in-light of plans to build on the site. It is still in use as a makeshift shop only to secure the status of the building whilst its future is formulated. However a new plan has recently been passed – to use the building as a museum to commemorate the North Sea Floods that hit Canvey in 1953. Fittingly enough, the building was used as an Army base when they came to the Island to repair the damaged seawalls and save civilian lives.

The conversion work will commence on April the 1st next year – exactly a year from now, whilst plans and propositions are drawn up. The historic structure is to be incorporated into the refurbished facilities. Below are some of the initial plans to be suggested. We can see a variety of space allocated for 1950s vehicles in the plans; could these be some that survived the flood?

Only time will tell when emerges from these plans but it would be great to see the building not only saved from gradual decay, but truly recognized for its historic importance.

NOTE: This was our April Fool’s Joke 2016 and Beyond the Point is not aware of any such plans.

This post continues from Part 1.

From 1827 the tunnels had remained derelict although from graffiti carved into chalk walls, it is known that soldiers were based there guarding an ammunition store in the 1850’s and 60’s. This is because they were on high alert for invasion although this threat never came to anything. In the First World War, the same tunnels were also mainly used for ammunition storage and perhaps as emergency stationing for soldiers about to make their short trip across the channel to the trenches of Northern France and Belgium. The tunnels were under the control of the Royal Navy during the First World War.

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey who died in 1945 from a plane crash. Photo from FanPop.com

Without much action for the next two decades, the tunnels were called back into action when the Second World War commenced. They were first converted into an air-raid shelter in 1939 although later became a secret military command centre and underground hospital. In May 1940 Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey directed the biggest operation ever seen at the site, from deep inside the White Cliffs, – Operation Dynamo, also known as the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The tunnels needed to be upgraded and transformed and this was a big mission itself. Over three miles of new and secret tunnels were dug out (by hand) to accommodate these changes. New levels of tunnels were commissioned from 1941 to provide separate, hidden and secure centres of operations for Army, Air Force and Navy. Many of the older tunnels were fired back into use by being lined with plywood or corrugated iron, of which much remains today. In addition space was needed for kitchens and mess rooms, maintenance and communications centres, barrack accommodation and a hospital for the wounded. The existing casemates were converted into offices, workshops, a telephone exchange, generator and planning rooms.

By the end of the war there were completed tunnels on three levels, one below the other.

A – Annex level, which from 1941 contained the hospital, dormitories, kitchens and mess rooms.

The planned B – Bastion level, behind Casemate level, was to be combined military headquarters and dormitories, but was never completed and never used.

C – Casemate level (the original 1797 tunnels and casemates planned by Twiss), held Admiralty Headquarters’ plotting, telecommunications and planning rooms, workshops and offices.

D – Dumpy level, the lowest level, built in 1942, was intended to be the main operations headquarters for the Army and Air Force.

Wartime life at Dover Castle

Photos Copyright English Heritage Photo Library

Post War

The DUMPY sign still at the Castle.

The Admiralty retained an interest in the tunnels until 1958 when they were handed over to the Home Office for a new defence function – a Regional Seat of Government to be used in the event of a nuclear war. The final phase of the working life of the tunnels came in the 1960s during the Cold War when tensions between East and West were at their height. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962, with its serious threat of nuclear war, particularly concentrated the minds of politicians and military planners in Britain. The government response was to identify a number of sizeable and secure fall-out shelters from which some vestige of local organisation could be continued in the event of a nuclear attack by the USSR. Dumpy level of Dover’s still secret, underground tunnels was chosen as the Regional Seat of Government for South East England, known as R.S.G.12. This Government centre was to be controlled by a cabinet minister with a staff of service personnel and civilian administrators after a nuclear war.

The work of converting the tunnels started again although this time converting them into radiation proof T.V. and radio studios, living accommodation and operations centre. Doomsday rehearsals and civil defence training were carried out regularly in the modified tunnels throughout the 1960s although the tunnels became increasingly difficult to maintain (and keep secret) during the 1970s. It was also realised that the porous chalk would have offered barely any protection against contaminated rainwater percolating down from any nuclear winter at ground level. The tunnels were abandoned as a Regional Seat of Government but were kept secret until 1986 when they were passed into the hands of English Heritage for eventual opening to the public.

Present Day

Scent bottlesToday English Heritage take pride in creating a realistic experience for people to a glimpse into what it would have been like during the war. The tunnels are open to the public with tours available for free (entrance fee to the site applies). While some of the tunnels maintain the wartime look and feel, some are making the most of technology with projections and immersive sound effects. Bottles like these are used to create realistic smells of some unusual things such as the boiler room, beef and a general musty smell.

This article was written in January this year as an overview of Beyond the Point’s coverage of the First World War for the Imperial War Museum’s Centenary Partnership which we are proud to be a part of. In light of remembrance 2015, its now here on Beyond the Point.

I shall begin by introducing our organisation. BeyondthePoint.co.uk is Essex-based and was established by myself (Liam Heatherson) and my friend Joe Mander, in 2011 when we were fourteen years old. Like this site, we created it using WordPress (originally as a blog). We were awarded Best National Community Archive, Website, and Heritage Group of 2012. We use our site to share and document our fascination with local history, offering an innovative approach to the subject by focusing on what is usually glossed over by historians; primarily what remains of our heritage today. The ‘hands-on’ nature of exploring local heritage in our opinion is a good way to fascinate a younger audience. Also, we use professional-quality video equipment to produce documentaries on the places we visit found on the site.

We were encouraged to join the Centenary Partnership by the Bay Museum who is also a partner, whom we know very well. Like ourselves, they believe seeing and investigating remains of the Great War is the most effective way to really capture people, like history did to myself many years ago.

Beyond the Point has been running a series of articles on relating to the First World War, and we have many planned for the future. We began our investigation by having a look at the remembrance of the sacrifice paid. Joe and I took a trip to London and visited the poppies at the Tower of London, and also the Tower Hill Memorial for those who lost their lives in both world wars in the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets. You can read about our visit and our partnership with the IWM here: http://wp.me/P1HP6Z-1if Next we paid a visit to the Imperial War Museum London itself as it was only fitting. We visited the First World War exhibition there. Read more here: http://wp.me/P1HP6Z-1mb

Having paid respects to the more obvious commemoration of the Great War, we then set out to provide our own contributions. As we usually explore and document historic remains, we took a trip to Rainham Marshes RSPB Reserve which held the ruins of the Ministry of Defence site that was there as far back as the 1700s up until recent. It served most notably as a firing range during the First World War. Joe and I took two friends with us and they were definitely fascinated like ourselves. We tracked down the ruins of an anti-submarine blockhouse, which shot down a zeppelin in March 1916, explored the impressive remains of the 1915 firing range, and ventured inside a gloomy anti-aircraft ammunition magasine; one of the original eight. We provided a downloadable trail guide on our website to enable viewers to discover the remains for themselves. You can read the whole detailed investigation, see all our photographs, and get the trail guide here: http://wp.me/P1HP6Z-1s6

This is only the one of our investigations into remains of the First World War on the home front and we plan several more for the future. BTP created a 5-minute short documentary on Southend in The First World War based on the book ‘Southend at War’ by Dee Gordon. It visits sites that were bombed, or used in the war effort. Read the article here: http://wp.me/p1HP6Z-1md

We will be visiting the site of a First World War Kynoch munitions factory that is currently thought to be gone without trace by historians, to conduct an archaeological search, after we found signs of ruins corresponding to the original plans via Google Earth. We visited a similar site, now a nature reserve, in Pitsea, several years ago (Wat Tyler Country Park) which made much of the .303 ammunition for the standard-issue Short Magasine Lee-Enfield rifles used by troops in the Great War. This is somewhat antiquated content on our site which is not representative of the quality of our articles at present, although you can read about this here: http://wp.me/P1HP6Z-Xl We also visited a munitions factory from the same era in 2013 at Cliffe, whose ruins span miles of Thames-side marshland in Kent to this day: http://wp.me/P1HP6Z-1af Finally, again in 2013, we visited Stow Maries Aerodrome which was abandoned up until recent years in which a restoration project has taken place. They fly contemporary aircraft from the site, and hold a collection of restored and left-natural buildings from the time of the First World War. Read here: http://wp.me/P1HP6Z-Sx

Thanks very much for reading and thanks very much to the Imperial War Museum for the First World War Centenary Project which we are grateful to be part of.

How does Cressing Temple reflect what was going on in the wider world?

Cressing Temple is located in North Essex and the two surviving Medieval barns have never been out of use since the 13th Century when they were built under the Knights Templar military Christian order who at the time took part in the Crusades. Because they have been constantly used for farming and have been updated along the way, at least in part, the barns have simply stood where they have always been for only two centuries short of one-thousand years! It began as the ‘Preceptory of Cressing’ – the word used for a headquarters ‘base’ of the Templars.

The Templars began to decline as the 14th century turned due to the financial interests of King Philip IV of France who outlawed them as ‘heretics’, sometimes burning them at the stake. The Hospitallers; another crusading Christian order, took dominance. During the late 14th Century, after the country was broken by the Black Death, the Peasants’ Revolt broke out and ransacked the estate for its unpopular wealth, which was now owned by hospitaller Sir Robert Hales.

In the Tudor Era many of the buildings on the site were demolished including the central quarters of the Templars because Henry VIII was anti-Catholic. He dissolved the monasteries to favour protestantism so that he could divorce, meaning Catholic-orientated properties such as Cressing Temple was taken over as a manor. The Smyth family took ownership of the estate; Sir John Smyth was a Baron of the Exchequer. The ‘Great House’ was a mansion built at this time as a result of the English Reformation forming the centre of the Estate. It was demolished in the 18th Century but the Tudor farmhouse, granary, wagon lodge, and stable yard, all still stand. The brick walled garden with ornate fountain was built in the Elizabethan Era.

It passed between owners right up until 1971 when Frank Cullen gave up ownership and passed away around this time. He was the last farmer to own the estate and bought it initially in 1913. His nephew Anothony Cullen kept the estate until 1987 when the estate was split up and purchased by Essex County Council for its historic interest.

Apart from its age, how is Cressing Temple of so much interest?

We were guided around the site by Helen Gibson who was very knowledgeable on the site and the barns, to whom we thank for our understanding of Cressing Temple brought to you in this article. She truly believed the barns were a worldwide relic, and considering they are the oldest timber-framed barns in the world it isn’t difficult to understand why.

Because stone was usually found up north in places like Yorkshire, the barns had to be made from local materials instead due to the difficulties in transporting heavy stone across the country in the 1200s. Essex was dominantly a wooded area back then, with places like Hadleigh being royal hunting grounds full of wolves, boars, and even aurochs – now extinct! Local trees were used to make the barns but this meant they were unlikely to last as long or be as stable as stone barns which were more common of the time. However through painstaking mathematical planning the Medieval craftsman who designed and made the barns were able to produce an impressive duo of structures that have stood up until the present day, withstanding a great gail of 1887. It was her husband Adrian Gibson who researched and uncovered the extent of the planning that would’ve gone into the design of the barns; triangles, circles, and even pythagoras’ theorem were all used to ensure the barns stood up.

The timbers were incredibly large carved from single trees used as ‘passing braces’ running the height of the barn, much larger than the more intricate work of the 1400s Hospitallers who added supports to the upper of the barley barn. When forests were cleared over Henry VIII’s rule, even shorter timbers (seen in the Tudor granary barn) were used as the great Essex forests were now gone. Across these years of woodwork, various joins were developed to hold the timbers. The great variety visible which reflects changing trends at Cressing Temple makes the site of interest to carpenters worldwide and the European Woodworking Show is held annually there. The ‘notched-lap joint’ is a join in which the timbers slot over the side of the other timber meaning it could lie flat, constructed, and then the ribs of the barn could be hoisted up to support the roof. This is an example of how architectural details give us clues about the history of a building. Cecil Hewett did great work on the investigation of the woodwork seen on the barns.

What were the barns used for?

The oldest barn is the barley barn, used for making beer at the time. It was built roughly from 1205-35, and beer was important in the Middle Ages because water couldn’t be sterilised unless collected from a clean flowing source hence why even children drunk beer in the 1200s. It was an important part of daily life – perhaps why Medieval society was a little more barbaric than that of today! As previously mentioned timbers were added in the 1400s by the Hospitallers.

The wheat barn, built around 50 years later, features only 13th Century original woodwork. Here wheat would’ve been threshed with a flail – hit to remove the useful parts. It was also thrown into the air to separate the grain in this barn. The plaster/brick walls with timber inserts on both barns were added in the Tudor period because the original templar wood walls would have rotted, although the thicker timbers around the walls are original. The roof tiles are probably Victorian but could be earlier and are not dissimilar to the clay originals which were much larger but of similar form. The porches and doors on the barns are so large to allow wagons with heaps of bunches of wheat and barley in.

The granary barn is the largest granary in Essex but was much later, built around 1575 in Elizabethan days. It was built over a demolished structure whose hearth was uncovered in archaeological digs in recent times and is now visible through the brick floor of the granary.

What other treasures remain on the estate?

The walled brick garden dates from the Elizabethan era and features a spectacular foutain. The plants planted in the garden are heavily scented to convey the trend of the time that favoured strongly pungent plants. Herbs and flowers in the garden would’ve generally had practical applications for medicine or food and drink – chamomile for tea, or sweet woodruff used to aid healing. Chamomile was a popular lawn plant in the Tudor days because of its sent and hence it features heavily in the garden.

The estate has a tractor barn possibly from the 1700s or 1800s with a thatched roof. Here the machinery used on the farm would have been stored. the Tudor granary building also had attached workshops for wagons passing the estate or being used on it. The blacksmith workshop would make the metal rims of the wheels for protection – much like a tyre, and the wheel-smith workshop would be used for carpentry of the wooden wheels. Wheels could damage easily and hence were very important at the time.

There is also a more recent well-house used to store the well and pump which still works going into the well shaft built by the Templars in the 13th century.

Can I visit Cressing Temple myself?

Absolutely, it is open 10:30 – 4:30 every day to the public. The visitors centre was built very recently and has a Tiptree tearoom for visitors. You can explore all the areas we did for yourself.

Read, watch, and explore the historic building then and now here: http://beyondthepoint.co.uk/historic-locations/canvey-island/the-red-cowking-canute-pub-1800s-present/

Recently BTP Joe and I were allowed an exclusive glimpse at the hidden cellars of the King Canute pub on Canvey Island. The current owner was keen to let us photograph and explore the building, respecting the history of the building himself. He told us a new sign is in the making which suggests the dormant pub; currently a temporary ‘market’, might see rejuvenation in the future. However the cellar itself was water-logged and very damp – will the mould and structural deterioration bring the unused historic structure down before it sees a new life?

Inside the cellar we could see that much of the walls were painted original brick, probably from when the building was constructed in 1937. A more recent breeze block section had been added at a later date inside what would’ve been a large basement which extends to the span of the building. Various traces of the cellar’s former use were visible, from beer pumps under the bar to fizzy drink labels. It would have been used pretty regularly right up until the pub closed in early 2014, judging by the recent signs and other furnishings scattered around.